Making the Perfect Salad - Random Reasonings

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Making the Perfect Salad

A few weeks ago my husband’s niece was at our home for dinner. 

She’s a lovely 40-something who looks younger than her years. Very attractive and slim. I had only met her a couple of times so I didn’t know her very well, but assumed healthiness and fitness were priorities for her. I planned a meal I thought she would enjoy. It included a plated salad.

As she took her first bite of salad she told me that she doesn’t particularly like salads. I guess she was letting me know she probably wouldn’t eat it.

By the end of the meal she had completely finished the salad and told me it was the best salad she’d ever had! Then she asked for my recipe. But there was no recipe because for me salads are a composed food.

What I like most about making salads is the creativity of deciding what ingredients to put together. Plus, I make my own salad dressings specifically to match the type of salad I’ve created.

I’ve even gotten my meat and potatoes loving husband to eat salad as the main course!

When our kids and grandkids are all here for a meal, I often set up the island at the end of the kitchen as a salad bar. It’s fresh, healthy food and they all enjoy it.

Making the perfect salad begins with the choice of greens. The mix and balance of greens  is a critical first step. Never, ever just put iceburg lettuce in the bowl. Next, I decide if my other salad ingredients are going to be vegetables or fruits.

For a perfect salad always keep the other ingredients light in relationship to the greens. The greens should make up most of the salad. And last, there is the selection of the perfect topping or toppings to the salad which are always very sparse; just enough to add a bit of zest, crunch, and savoriness to it.

The finishing touch is the dressing. I believe that salad dressings should always be oil and vinegar types that are light on the greens. The right balance is vinegar should be half the amount of oil used.

I cringe when I see people take a beautiful, healthy bowl or plate of fresh greens and dump heavy ranch, thousand island or blue cheese dressing on it. But, at least they’re eating salad! I use store bought heavy dressings for people who prefer that kind.

The salad I made when my husband’s niece came to dinner was a base of romaine, some iceburg lettuce for bulk, and leaves of arugula, baby spinach, and chard.

The only other ingredients were D’Anjou pear sliced into thin bite-size slivers, not chunks, and cranberries. I use dried Craisin cranberries, put them in a bowl and cover them with water, microwave them for about a minute so they plump up and get soft, then drain the water off before putting the berries in the salad.

I topped my pear and cranberry salad with a sprinkling of finely chopped honey glazed walnuts and some finely shredded extra sharp white cheese.

The dressing was made with first cold pressed olive oil, white balsamic vinegar infused with pear and cranberry, and red raspberry jam mixed in to give it the perfect sweet/sour tanginess of a good oil and vinegar dressing. I prefer using jams, preserves, or honey for the sweetness in my salad dressings rather than adding sugar.

I keep my cupboards stocked with infused balsamic vinegars and infused olive oils that I purchase from specialty food stores, and keep a variety of jams and preserves in my cupboard or fridge. When making dressings for vegetable based (garden) salads, I use herb infused oils and vinegars then add either fresh or dried herbs, a little salt, and honey for just a touch of sweetness to give it that perfect zesty flavor.

My personal favorite salad is one with three simple ingredients. Fresh watercress greens  with thin slices of tomatoes and red onions, lightly topped with a red wine vinaigrette dressing. The mix of those flavors is amazing! I first had that salad in the mid 1970s when a friend and I had lunch at Tavern on the Green in New York City’s Central Park.

The variety of what you can do with salad is almost endless. Build your salad from what you have available. Fruits and vegetables can often be combined in one salad as I do with oranges, red beets, and red onion on a bed of greens with a tangy orange vinaigrette dressing. For main course salads I always add a meat ingredient, with strips of grilled, seasoned chicken as my favorite.

The key to the perfect salad is to always keep a mix of different fresh greens available in your refrigerator crisper drawer. With those you have the base for endless varieties of salads … and a healthy way to eat!

“The essence of a good salad is simplicity. Clean, bright flavors that when brought together bring out the best in one another.”

Chuck Williams

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